This is Part Two of a two-part story. If you missed Part One, click here.
Lesser Ephebian Cloud, on board the Lady Royale; ship’s time: Unknown
I followed the droid through room after room, past varied attractions, virtual concerts, ballrooms, and endless buffets kept fresh indefinitely in stasis fields. As is the way of casinos, to get anywhere at all we had to pass through bank after bank of slot machines. After a while I started jogging, and the droid had no choice but to speed up or lose me. We went up ramps, then forward again in a vast spiral that ended perhaps fifty feet higher up from where I’d started. I promised myself that, on the way back, I’d find a damn elevator or die trying.
It’s time for another exciting episode of The Operative! Just in time for Hallowe’en, we present a tale of mystery from the deepest reaches of the Unknown. Read on… if you dare.
Deep Space, Lesser Ephebian Cloud, 0200 Ship Time
I was on my way back to Founder’s Landing after a very profitable courier job on Charmed World. I’d moved some papers from here to there for some strange aliens, and I was looking forward to some alone time. There’s nothing more lonely than a nebula.
Airlock On Delivery Vessel, Helmet On
I was standing just inside the hatch, looking down the barrels of two hand disruptors, each held by an identical crewman. But I was in combat armor; no need for a little thing like that to intimidate me.
“Oh, please!” I said through the suit’s speaker. “It’d take you half an hour to burn through my armor, and that’s if I was polite enough to stand still. Why don’t you put those silly things down and let me finish my delivery?”
Suit In High Orbit; Strong Stench Of Terror
Gradually, I came out of it to see the face of Founder’s Landing tumbling overhead. A little at a time it started coming back to me; I was… I was… cargo?
OSTRICH TO CARGO, DO YOU COPY, OVER — OSTRICH TO CARGO…
Even as I clicked my mike in response, it came to me I’d been hearing them for a while. Suddenly, I realized where I was and what was happening. I’d passed out after all. I checked the timer — no, still on schedule. Thank the gods.
Airlock In High Orbit; Tinny Taste Of Adrenaline
“You about ready?” Eddie asked. “Your window’s coming up, in about–“
“FIVE MINUTES!” Sanchez’s voice blared over the intercom. Eddie grimaced.
“Yeah, in about five minutes or so. Give or take. Just, you know, kinda guessing at it.” He helped with one of the clamps, checked the holster, and handed me the case. “We’ll be watching for you at the rendezvous in ninety minutes. Don’t miss us, or it’s a long walk back home.”
High Orbit; Smell Of Scorched Insulation And Ozone
Molly’s betrayal hurt, and that’s the truth of it. It was still too close to think about.
But everything else — that Confederate, and then Intel getting involved. The riots, and the raids, and all the explosions… and my own job: moving money secretly offworld, without government knowledge. It all added up, and in a way I didn’t like.
Deserted Mansion, Wrong End Of A Blaster
“They call that desertion. Barring Imperial instructions to the contrary, I’m here ’till I die.”
At that she smiled, and it was lovely indeed. “I’d be only too pleased to help you with that, Martyn… dearest Martyn,” she said… and pulled the trigger.
Deserted Mansion, Overgrown Grounds
“Well, now; as I live and breathe. Dear Martyn it is, and no mistake! And how are you this fine evening?”
Queen Molly in person. That was all I needed. No, seriously; it was: If she had been late, or if my note to her hadn’t arrived, it would have screwed up my plan. Not badly, but enough.
I put on a winning smile and made my best leg. “Milady Queen! Delightful to see you, as always — truly delightful! I do hope you’ve brought some friends with nice strong backs?” I could just see them moving behind her in the murky night. “Excellent. Do come this way.”
Tunnel,Dark And Musty
I bet she had a pretty smile, but if so she was saving it for someone special and I didn’t qualify. I tried anyway. “The way I see it, you can hide in the tunnel and hope the cops don’t stumble over it, or you can stay in the District until tomorrow and sneak back into the Zone after all this settles down. I know some people–“
“I just bet you do,” she snapped. “I’ll find my own way, thanks!” And then she started walking — the wrong way, back toward the club. I almost let her go, but good sense prevailed.